Saturday, February 5, 2011



(Saturday, February 5, 2011. Fort Worth, TX) The contenders have been here for over a week. In approximately 26 hours the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers will meet here on the field at the North Texas Stadium to play in what is arguably the single biggest sporting event in America - the NFL Championship Game - The Super Bowl. This years version of the Super Bowl will showcase two of the most storied franchises in NFL history and two of the most evenly matched teams in recent years.

For two weeks now members of each organization have spent countless hours involved in photo ops, endless interviews and press scrutiny usually reserved for Presidential candidates on election eve.

The story lines coming out of each camp have been as diverse if not disparate as any however, due to the unusual attention this past season has invited regarding the safety of the players (particularly head-to-head contact and concussions), the short and long term affects of playing such a violent game, a great deal of the focus has been on these rather sensitive issues rather than the usual X’s and O’s of the contest itself. Some of the NFL’s biggest “hitters” will take the field. Both of the quarterbacks who will be leading their respective offensives tomorrow have suffered head injuries and concussions over the course of their careers. The signal caller for the Packers, Aaron Rogers will be wearing, for the fourth consecutive game, a specially modified helmet to protect him from sustaining yet another concussion; he missed several games this year as a result of not being able to pass the newly implemented “post concussive” medical examinations developed by the medical consultants to the NFL.


Any boy who has ever put on a pair of shoulder pads and the rest of the standard equipment required to play football on every level, has, at one time or another, dreamed of playing at “the next level.” High schoolers want to play big time collegiate ball while those fortunate, talented and physically gifted enough to play the college game on the highest level all inevitably desire the money, fame, fortune, glory and sense of competition, of being among the small elite fraternity of NFLers playing this immensely popular sport professionally. Few, at any time in their playing days; be they in high school, college or on the professional level, give serious consideration to the potential for sustaining acute, chronic and / or life altering physical and neurologic injuries that may result in varying degrees of impairment once their playing days are over.

If the sense of indestructibility is common among young men it is taken to an entirely uniquely lofty apex among the men playing in the NFL considered to be among the best athletes in the world, bar none. Even as evidence mounts correlating certain forms of degenerative brain disease from the thousands of “sub-concussive collisions” a football player encounters from the time he first straps on a helmet, to the well known potential of life long chronic musculo-skelatal problems, arthritis, chronic pain and a list of symptoms, syndromes, diseases and disabilities that is far too long to list here, one would be hard pressed to find a football player, particularly an NFLer prepared to walk away from the sport that defines him or has become his chosen profession.


The harsh facts of life are that less than 99.9% of boys who play college football will never even have a remote chance of playing football professionally. Those who manage to actually graduate from college with a degree may have opportunities to make a comfortable living and carve out a decent life for themselves and their families without football.

Thus far no professional football player has received a fatal injury on the job.
The professions listed above, however, are well represented among the most dangerous jobs in America.

All the rest, whether or not they ever played a down in a college football game will go on into the workforce just as their peers who never strapped on a football helmet. But, many men do indeed put helmets on everyday they go to work. They may be men who walk high steel, coal miners, firefighters, construction workers and tradesmen, welders or sandhogs. Most won’t wear helmets of any kind as they earn their livings in every type of blue collar job there is; some, far more hazardous on a daily basis than any minute on a football field.

The average salary for an NFL player this season is $1.8 million - quite an “average” income for any profession. That average salary is at least three times higher than the average salary for those who work in professions with far greater instances and potentialities of injury and even death. Commercial fisherman, truck drivers, ranch laborers, garbage men, cops, highway road crew workers, high voltage electrical repair and installation workers - these are the workers, toiling for annual wages that range from the mid $30,000 range up to the high end of their neighborhoods near $88,000. The statisticians and labor demographers out there can argue the ratio of and per capita representation of all the other hazardous professions in America compared to the small number of professional football players and still not have a valid argument when it comes to risks and rewards. Indeed, this year their were 1,696 men playing in the NFL.


Enough has already been made about how we as a society, a culture put our athletes on pedestals from the first time they show any real promise. Everyone who has been in High School recalls that the athletes, the members of this or that team had been treated differently, “specially” in comparison to their non-athletic classmates. In college, especially in the big, major conference universities where head football coaches salaries are measured in the millions of dollars, this coddling and special treatment of athletes is taken to an entirely new plane of apartnessness, privilege, uniqueness and entitlement. That is not the argument here.

What is at the heart of this discussion and the disingenuous “concern” expressed by the NFL hierarchy regarding players safety and health as well as their long term medical problems, is that this elite group of 1, 696 men have made their choice. They have chosen to follow their dream, some one else’s dreams for them, the money and all that attaches to them as professional football players. Money is no small motivator and the promise of ever increasing sums of money in higher salaries, incentives and endorsements in the present tense certainly obscure whatever risks they may be taking as well as the chance they might end up seriously impaired after their careers end.

Careers end quickly in the NFL, sometimes in the blink of an eye. The specter of a wrong turn or cut, a twisted knee with torn ligaments and cartilage, broken, dislocated bones, degenerative structural ailments of all kinds roam the sidelines of every game as phantom menaces not to be seen, thought of or acknowledged in any way.

Careers and sometimes lives end in similar nanoseconds for underground miners, law enforcement officers, oil rig workers and others. Many professions carry with them a deadly legacy by way of the various toxic and carcinogenic exposures workers incurred while on they way to a pension.


The last few years has seen a massive amount of data assembled from research and medical surveillance programs that track the health and well being of men who have retired from the NFL. The conclusions drawn from much of this data regarding the long lasting affects of repetitive head trauma alone is sobering. Tissue samples examined microscopically from brains donated by the families of retired NFLers show neuropathological changes in their brains suggestive of the same type of degenerative processes seen as markers for Alzheimer's Disease and Parkinson's Disease.

Other long term medical surveillance programs have tracked lung disease in miners, factory workers from a wide range of industries, and a veritable medical encyclopedia of ailments many of which will prove to be fatal for some of those affected. Many professions in this country are hazardous on a daily basis and still others bring with them the possibility of chronic conditions that will alter the quality of life long after their workers have punched the clock at the end of their last shift.

Tomorrows game will go on as scheduled and each man that takes the field will, no doubt, look back when questioned sometime years from now as his Super Bowl experience as one of the highlights of his life. Many of the former NFLers who have been interviewed admit that the quality of their day to day life is a direct result of the years they played football. They all cite examples back to junior league and their high school careers when they sustained injuries, sometimes severe concussions, yet chose to “walk it off” and get back in the action. Imposing fines and penalties will not alter the way the current NFL players play the game.

As Drew Breese last seasons Super Bowl winning quarterback of the New Orleans Saints noted on ESPN earlier this week, the “improved equipment meant to protect the players’ has actually made the players “more” dangerous, more lethal. The NFL stresses player safety but everyone involved in the game on any level and certainly all those even on the periphery realize that money is the bottom line, the only bottom line that counts. As long as the NFL produces a product - highly competitive football played by the world’s greatest athletes - there will continue to be violent collisions, injuries and long term repercussions for these men when they ultimately leave the game.

The same can be said for so many hundreds of thousands of American workers from every corner of the workforce, every sector of the giant apparatus that is American production, industry, manufacturing, construction, transportation and distribution. According to the Occupational safety and Health Administration (OSHA), everyday 16 men and women who punched a clock in the morning did not return home from work as the result of a workplace injury or death. That is reality.

TAGS: NFL, NFL Player Safety, Concussions, OSHA, Football, Risks, Rewards, NFL Head Injury Advisory Committee, Super Bowl.


Originally posted on & Saturday, February 5, 2011 @ 12:30PM EST

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